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For some terrific photos from Burning Man 2013 by other photographers, try these links:
It's no exaggeration to say Burning Man is one of the world's hippest and most mind-blowing gatherings. It's not quite an art festival, not quite a desert rave, and not quite a social experiment, but something of all three. The event is a week-long celebration of free-form creativity and radical self-expression held each year in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.
Burning Man takes place in a temporary "city" some five miles wide that rises out of a dry lakebed toward summer's end only to vanish again after the event is over. For a few brief days, the ephemeral metropolis known as Black Rock City ranks among the largest communities in the state of Nevada.
It's a place of breathtaking diversity — a coming together of freethinking artists, dancers, performers, DJs, musicians, designers, and exhibitionists of every stripe. It's also a place of whimsical art installations, startlingly decorated art cars, pulsating soundscapes and wacky theme camps, all set against an uncommonly beautiful natural backdrop.
2013 marked the 27th anniversary of Burning Man and it was more massive than ever. The sheer energy and intensity seemed to have been ramped up several notches this year. One of the most common refrains on the playa was that the party seemed to be in full swing even before the gates opened. Many of us felt as if we barely caught our breath all week and came home more ragged than usual.
The Yosemite Rim Fire set its mark on the event and made for challenging lighting conditions for photography. Smoke and ash from the fire blew in over the playa and made for hazy skies and murky sunsets. By the fourth and fifth day, I found myself longing for the deep blue skies and golden twilight hues that I'm accustomed to in the Black Rock Desert. As it happened, we saw very little of that this year. The best light came on Sunday, the final day of the event, as a dark storm front moved in just after sunrise and briefly transformed the desert into a moody expanse of shifting clouds and swirling dust.
Shooting on Assignment
Last year I shot on assignment for RollingStone.com and I was happy for the chance to do that again this time. The editors were wonderful to work with and gave me wide latitude to cover the event much as I've always done. They published two slideshows of 25 images each — one focusing on the installations, the art cars, and the event as a whole (Burning Man 2013: The Scene), and the other devoted to the beautiful and amazing faces of Black Rock City (Burning Man 2013: The People). Some but not all of the images on Rolling Stone's site also appear here.
This was also my fifth year on the Burning Man documentation team, a small group of photographers invited to capture the event for the organization. Every year we set out to document the full range of art installations, theme camps, mutant vehicles, and scheduled performances. The task seemed more impossible than usual given the scale of the event this year. But we gave it our best.
In addition, I worked with fellow photographer Sidney Erthal and writer Jennifer Raiser, both dear friends, on a book that's slated for publication next year. It will be a richly illustrated coffee table book with some trenchant writing (and extensive captions) devoted to Burning Man as an increasingly influential cultural phenomenon..
One of the highlights of the week was having our book editor fly in from New York to experience Burning Man for a few days (something I wish more assignment editors would do!). Seeing her take it all in for the first time helped me to remember a time ten years ago when it was all new to me. It also helped me to see some things a little more, shall we say, objectively.
My photography has changed and evolved over the decade that I've been shooting at Burning Man. But the basic impulse has remained the same — to try in some small way to capture the beauty, the creativity, the whimsy, the madness and the sheer outrageous good fun of it all.
I'm always gratified when non-burners appreciate the photos, but my primary goal has always been to share them with those who were at the event and, to whatever extent I can, contribute a little of my own creativity to the mix.
A Note on Equipment
As in previous years, I shot all the images using a pair of trusty Canon DSLRs. For more on the equipment I carry, have a look at What's In the Camera Bag.
I shot about 4,000 frames over the course of a week. Just two days into the event, I broke my primary lens — the 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom. It was brand new and I had purchased it specifically for shooting on the playa, so this was a setback. It meant that I had to adopt a somewhat different lens strategy than I'm used to, shooting "wide" and "long," instead of "normal."
I get a lot of questions about my gear, and people wonder how I protect it in such a harsh environment. The answer is I don't. I think people spend too much time worrying about heat and dust. For an interesting discussion about this, have a look at the thread on Flickr titled How do you keep your camera from getting dusty at Burning Man? See also playa photographer Curious Josh's Short Camera Tips for Burning Man.
For more on my Burning Man photography — what first inspired me to get into it, how my approach has evolved over the years, and what gear I use — you can read an interview I did a while back with Paul Caridad Sanchez in Visual News: Scott London Captures the Magic at Burning Man. Another couple of interviews appeared in It's Nice That and Ignite.me.
Gratitude and Acknowledgments
As always, I'm grateful to the many wonderful people of Burning Man who freely consented to let me photograph them in the act of dancing, stilt-walking, hooping, making art, or simply being beautiful. I don't take that permission for granted. It requires a special patience to put up with tiresome photographers sticking their equipment in your face — pointing lenses at your tattoos, your necklaces, your derriere. My art, such as it is, would not be possible without that open consent and participation. So thank you.
If you want to be in touch, I'd love to hear from you. Feel free to connect on Facebook as well, where I have a few additional photos and where you can leave comments and criticism.
Photo by D'Milo
© Copyright 2013 by Scott London. All rights reserved.